TX Senator Demands That Air Force Answer to Him for Pulling "Jesus Loves Nukes" Training
Chris Rodda printable version print page     Bookmark and Share
Thu Sep 08, 2011 at 05:51:44 PM EST
This summer, the Military Religious Freedom Foundation (MRFF) scored a big victory, getting the Air Force to review all of its so-called "ethics" training. This decision by Air Force leadership was made after thirty-one Air Force officers decided to take a stand against what some officers had nicknamed the "Jesus Loves Nukes speech," part of the Air Force's missile launch officer training. These Air Force officers came to MRFF for help with getting this overtly Christian "ethics" training removed from the "Nuclear Ethics and Nuclear Warfare" class, a mandatory part of the first week of training for all officers in missile launch training at Vandenberg Air Force Base.

In late July, Truthout.org exposed the content of this training in an article titled "Air Force Cites New Testament, Ex-Nazi, to Train Officers on Ethics of Launching Nuclear Weapons." The Air Force immediately suspended the training.

David Smith, the spokesman for the Air Force's Air Education and Training Command, made the following statements to Fox News Radio explaining the Air Force's decision: "In an effort to serve all faiths, we try to introduce none in our briefings and our lectures. Once we heard there were concerns, we looked at the course and said we could do better," and, "The military is made up of people from all walks of life, all faiths. It's most appropriate to let folks practice their faith on their own and not try to introduce something else to them." Nobody could have a problem with this, right? Wrong.

Senator John Cornyn (R-TX), a member of the Senate Armed Services Committee, doesn't like the Air Force's decision, and has written the following letter to Secretary of the Air Force Michael Donley.

The Honorable Michael B. Donley
Department of the Air Force
1670 Air Force Pentagon
Washington, DC 20330

Dear Secretary Donley:

I write to express my concern regarding recent reports that the Department of the Air Force has suspended a course entitled "Christian Just War Theory." It is my understanding that this course, taught by chaplains at Vandenberg Air Force Base, was suspended and is currently under review by Air Force officials after complaints were made that the curriculum referenced passages from the Bible.

As you may know, the reports indicate that a spokesman for the Air Force's Air Education and Training Command has said that the main purpose of the course was to enable missile launch officers to understand that "what they are embarking on is very difficult and you have to have a certain amount of ethics about what you are doing to do that job." Our military services, like our nation, are comprised of people representing all faiths. However, that fact does not preclude military chaplains from teaching a course on just war theory -- a theory that has been a part of moral philosophy and the law of war for centuries -- merely because it has historically been predicated on religious texts.

Moreover, suspending a course like this because of references to religious texts misinterprets the First Amendment. Although our Founding Fathers rightly included language in the Constitution that precludes the Federal government from establishing an official religion, this language does not, as some have argued, protect them from exposure to religious references. The First Amendment is intended to guarantee an individual's right to the free exercise of religion according to his or her conscience. The Air Force personnel who have taken this course for the past 20 years have been free to determine, according to their own consciences, whether they accept or reject the premises of just war theory.

With these concerns in mind, I strongly urge you to ensure that a correct interpretation of the First Amendment is applied in resolving this situation. Moreover, I ask that you provide me with a detailed report on any actions taken by Air Force officials in response to these complaints.

I appreciate your attention to this request. Thank you for your service to the men and women of the United States Air Force and our nation.

Let's get something straight here: This isn't about a few Bible references. It's about slide after slide of Bible verses, as well as a slide presenting former Nazi and SS officer Werhner Von Braun not as a scientist, but as a moral authority promoting the Bible (for some reason, defenders of this training like Senator Cornyn keep leaving that pesky little detail out). The training quoted Von Braun, upon surrendering to American forces in 1945, saying: "We wanted to see the world spared another conflict such as Germany had just been through and we felt that only by surrendering such a weapon to people who are guided by the Bible could such an assurance to the world be best secured."

Another fact: Twenty-nine of the thirty-one Air Force officers who came to MRFF for help in getting this training stopped are Christians -- both Catholics and Protestants. Got that? The overwhelming majority of the officers who complained about so-called "free exercise of religion" are objecting to the Air Force inappropriately pushing THEIR OWN religion. In the few days since Fox News Radio released Sen. Cornyn's letter, thirty-eight more Air Force officers have contacted MRFF wanting to join the original thirty-one. Thirty-two of these thirty-eight are also Christians. (So you don't have to do the math, that's sixty-one Christian Air Force officers who completely disagree with Sen. Cornyn.)

The "Just War Theory" section of the presentation begins with a slide containing an image of Augustine of Hippo, the 4th century Catholic bishop most closely associated with this set of ethical principles, although an earlier version of these principles dates back to Cicero two centuries earlier. Ironically, immediately preceding the Just War Theory slides in this uber-religious ethics presentation, George Washington is used as an example on a slide titled "Can a Person of Faith fight in a War?," even though Washington's wartime ethics were more in line with Cicero's principles of Just War than Augustine's version. And there were also the writings of later thinkers like Hugo Grotius, whose writings were based on international and natural law, and had largely supplanted Augustine's Just War Theory by the time of the founding of our country. But, of course, presenting Washington as a religious figure is to be expected in military training promoting religion.

The next two slides simply list "Augustine's Qualifications for Just War" -- Just Cause, Just Intent, Legitimate Authority, A Reasonable Prospect for Success, and Last Resort. That's all fine. It's simply a list of criteria from Augustine's theory, which, although from an historically religious figure, are criteria still accepted by many ethicists, both religious and secular, to determine if a war is morally justified.

If the Air Force's presentation stopped here and continued with a discussion of these five principles, divorced from any particular religion, there would be no problem with this section of the training. But, instead, the presentation continues with six slides of Bible verses, each with the big heading of "Christian Just War Theory" at the top. This includes the slides with Old Testament verses, which the defenders of this presentation are pointing out to say, "See, they included Jewish stuff, so it's not a Christian presentation." And, of course, slapping a clip art menorah on one of the slides that's titled "Christian Just War Theory" (seriously, that's what they did) also makes this presentation inclusive of other religions.

In addition to the number of Bible verses in this training, it's hard to figure out what some of them even have to do with Just War Theory. For example, the presentation cites 2 Timothy 2:3, saying, "Paul chooses three illustrations to show what it means to be a good disciple of Christ," one of which is a soldier. Sure, this verse mentions a soldier -- it says "Join with me in suffering, like a good soldier of Christ Jesus." So, our U.S. Air Force missile officers are supposed to be good soldiers of Jesus Christ? Well, of course! The next and final Bible verse in the presentation explains it all. That one is from Revelation 19:11 -- "Jesus Christ is the mighty warrior." Is it any wonder that this presentation has been nicknamed the "Jesus Loves Nukes speech," or that so many Christian Air Force officers are complaining about it?

As often is the case, once MRFF goes public with something like this training presentation, others around the military start coming forward and reporting similar things that they've seen going on that they want to do something about. So, within days of the news that the Air Force had stopped the "Jesus Loves Nukes" training, MRFF received another PowerPoint, this one from an ROTC instructor. This one was the Air Force ROTC's "Core Values and the Air Force Member" training presentation. The complaints about this training? Well, let's start with the "Have no other Gods before me" commandment in the Ten Commandments part of the training, which along with the Sermon on the Mount, is what the Air Force ROTC is using at colleges across the country as its "Examples of Ethical Values."

As reported by the Air Force Times, upon the revelation of this second completely inappropriate Air Force training presentation, the Air Force has now decided to review all of its ethics training materials. According to spokesman David Smith, "Air Education and Training Command is conducting a comprehensive review of training materials that address morals, ethics, core values and related character development issues to ensure appropriate and balanced use of all religious and secular source material." That should make Senator Cornyn's head explode.

MRFF will continue work to hold the Air Force accountable to freedom of religion. Add your voice by signing the petition and tell Senator Cornyn you support the Air Force's action, and that all members of the military are owed the honor of serving their country without being preached at. The petition can be found here:http://www.militaryreligiousfreedom.org/cornyn_petition/

justification for having religious chaplains attached to military units, and looks at the position that chaplains have in the military now, it is quite frightening.  James Madison's concerns in Monopolies on the presence of chaplains in Congress have come to fruition in terms of becoming a precedent for further violations. What we have now in our military is super violations.  Chaplains running policy programming they have no business running, and multi-million dollar chapels being built on training bases.  

The natural inclination of the Abrahamic religions is to be aggressive. The founders hoped to create a country where that nature could be tempered by freedom of religion. With some groups (almost a majority now), their experiment in America failed. Now we are left with having to battle these aggressions in our government, locally and nationally, AND in our military.  It is a very scary time for this country and I don't think most citizens recognize just how scary this is.

by monarchmom on Fri Sep 09, 2011 at 10:08:08 AM EST

After reading this post, I'm left with two questions: would it be okay for chaplains to offer optional ethics training or counseling? Or should chaplains not be allowed to provide ethics training at all? And that led me to my second questions: does it make sense for the U.S. government to employ members of the clergy at all? I don't have answers, but I'd be interested in hearing other people's thoughts on this.

by dscribner on Wed Sep 14, 2011 at 06:13:54 PM EST
... and what I say as a spokesperson for MRFF separate. MRFF's goal is simply to get the military to obey its own regulations and policies. So, since military regulations allow chaplains, MRFF's position is that it's fine for chaplains to offer optional religious ethics counseling for those who want it, but commanders and other leaders cannot make this part of mandatory training or do anything to promote it. MRFF's position and Gen. Schwartz's memorandum are in agreement.

As an historian, however, I consider the arguments  of James Madison, as well as the thousands of people in the mid-1800s who spent decades trying to get all government chaplaincies abolished, to be very valid constitutional arguments.

So, what I write about chaplains as an historian is not in agreement with MRFF's official position, but when I'm speaking for MRFF I need to keep my own opinions out of it.

by Chris Rodda on Sun Sep 18, 2011 at 10:26:16 AM EST

Granted, my Navy service (aircrewman P-3 Orions, and ground avionics maintenance) was 30 years ago, but I think my view is probably still valid. Chaplains provide someone to talk to about life's problems and in my experience were pretty good about giving sound, helpful advice. I was never exposed to any Fundamentalist chaplains, but the Catholic Priests and one Rabbi that I knew helped a lot of folks. Without them the only people to talk to would have been mental health professionals - and in the military talking to one of them would create all sorts of problems and questions. Chaplains are about the only folks a young soldier or sailor can talk to in complete confidence about family problems, fears, depression, etc. In the Navy, Chaplains had a good deal of "pull" too. I have seen folks get situations resolved - like a transfer to be near an ailing parent, or expedited approval for married housing, or financial help with a sick child that just could not happen without the intervention of the Chaplain. Since talks with a Chaplain are confidential, commanders tend to accommodate Chaplain requests more readily than other requests - again I speak about the Navy. In the Navy Chaplains were only used for ethics training in a group, you would have a seminar and Q&A with the pastor, priest, and rabbi all present and participating. Any other approach would be inappropriate, IMHO. I am primarily a practising Zen Buddhist, was raised a Fundamentalist Baptist but turned to Catholicism in my teen years, attended Catholic Mass regularly in the service and afterwards, and have been a ["Liberal"]Presbyterian (PCA) since I got married to my wife of nearly 30 years in respect of her and her family. Groups like the OCF, and other Fundamentalist groups that denigrate all other faiths except their own and claim a monopoly on the Truth should be reigned in because their teachings lead to strife, division, and favouritism in the military. Fundamentalists promoting other fundamentalists, and then claiming it's because they make better soldiers... This is very bad for morale and contains an element of coercion that is totally un-American. That said, I think the Chaplain Service does a lot of good and will continue to do so as long as extremists are screened out. I guess the key checkpoint would be a belief in ecumenicalism.

by Oldscribe on Sun Sep 25, 2011 at 04:22:08 PM EST

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